Top 10 Books of 2018

I read over 100 books this year, so it is incredibly hard to narrow the list down to just 10 books! I really like reading new releases and this year almost half of all the books I read were published in 2018, so like last year, I’ve decided to publish two lists. This will be my top 10 favourite books that were published in 2018, and my second follow up post with be my top 5 favourite books that I read in 2018, but were published in other years. Without further ado, here’s my top 10 of 2018, in order this year!

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie has been making waves this year and was my first Courtney Summers book. I started reading it on a 3 day kayak trip and was totally enthralled with it the entire weekend. It’s a powerful read, but one of the things I actually liked most about it was the format. Sadie tells the story of a young woman named Sadie – when her sister turns up dead, Sadie disappears from town and goes on a mission to track down her sister’s killer. What made the format so unique was that half of the book is told in the style of a podcast investigating what happened to Sadie, while the other half is told from Sadie’s point of view as she moves through rural America trying to track down the killer. The podcast reminded me a lot of Serial and I thought it made for a really interesting and dynamic read. Summers doesn’t hold back any punches in this story and it’s really a book about how girls and women disappear and are murdered far too often. I can’t take another dead girl.

9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After was a bit of a slower read compared to some of the other books on this list, but is the writing and the story ever beautiful! It tells the story of Taiwanese-American teenager, Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. In her grief, Leigh believes that her mother has come back as a bird and is trying to communicate with Leigh. In an effort to learn more about her mother, she decides to take a trip to Taiwan for the first time to meet her grandparents. The story is filled with magical realism and is a beautiful coming of age story about grief, mental health, the pains of growing up, and the importance of chasing after the things that you love. I really liked the portrayal of mental health and depression and how anyone can be impacted by them and how there’s often no rhyme or reason to why someone might suffer from depression. I loved the cultural aspects that were woven into this story as well as Leigh’s relationship with her friend Axel and how it evolves throughout the story. Mostly though, I just loved this for the beautiful writing and would definitely recommend to anyone!

8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage has been featured on pretty much every “must read books of 2018” list I’ve seen on the internet and was featured in Oprah’s book club, so I was intrigued to read it. It’s about a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s marriage is abruptly cut short when Roy is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and incarcerated for 12 years. They try to maintain their marriage, but 12 years is a long time and Celestial starts to drift away from Roy. However, when Roy gets a surprise early release after 5 years, everyone’s lives are thrown into turmoil. Celestial has moved on and is unsure what to do in the face of her husband’s release. Roy on the other hand, is still hugely invested in Celestial and wants to give their marriage another shot. It’s a thought provoking novel on the justice system and what it means to be black in America. I really liked it because there were no easy choices for the characters and it was a critical look at the impact prison can have on the individual and their greater family and community.

7. Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

I’ve been reading Saga for the last two years, but for some reason, Volume 8 hit me a lot harder than any of the other volumes. I also read Volume 9 this year, which I liked, but didn’t love, but something about Volume 8 struck me differently. Saga is a graphic novel series about an intergalactic romance between two soldiers on opposing sides, Alana and Marko. The series starts off with them giving birth to their daughter, Hazel, and the entire series is them gallivanting around the galaxy trying to avoid all the individuals that think their marriage and relationship is an abomination. Volume 8 deals with abortion and I think it’s one of the reason’s why I liked it so much. The whole series is incredibly diverse and examines a number of different relevant social issues, and this issue looks at some of the reasons why women and couples decide to have abortions and why all reasons are valid. Overall, I would highly recommend the series, I’ll just put a disclaimer that the series does include a lot of sex and nudity.

6. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery to me why I liked this book as much as I did. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good romance, but I think it was because this was one of the rare New Adult books that I could actually relate to. I find there’s a huge gap in literature between stories about teenagers and stories about adults. There’s not a lot of great books about people in their mid-twenties and this book really that need. The Simple Wild is about 26 year old Calla. She grew up with her mom in Toronto, but she’s been estranged from her father, who is an Alaskan bush pilot, since she was 2. When she finds out her father has cancer, she decides to finally make the trip up to Alaska to meet him. She’s never understood her father’s life or why he would never leave his job to be with her and her mother. She finally has the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but fears it may be too late. At the same time, she meets her father’s best pilot, Jonah, and despite having almost nothing in common, they strike up a friendship that evolves mostly out of the two of them teasing one another. I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jonah, but this book has so much more going for it than just romance. I’m obsessed with any book set in Alaska and this was a great story about taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

5. Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad is a collection of stories about rape and rape culture that definitely needed to be told. I listened this anthology as an audiobook and I thought every single essay added something valuable to the collection and as a whole, the essays were extremely diverse. The premise of the book is that any story about rape, assault, or rape culture deserves a space and to be heard. People often refrain from sharing the things that have happened to them because they think they are not that bad compared to what has happened to other people they known. Gay wants to break down that idea that there is any kind of scale for breaking down the things that happen to us. Every story is that bad and every pain deserves to be acknowledged. It is only by sharing our stories that it becomes evident just how pervasive and widespread rape culture is. Your voice deserves to be heard – what happened to you is that bad – there is no hierarchy of pain and we acknowledge you.

4. Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This was my first Toews book, but I was totally blown away by it. It’s a short and simple book, but so startling in it’s honesty. Women Talking is based on a Mennonite community in rural Bolivia where the women were continuously subjected to sexual assault in secret by members of the community. They were not believed and were told that they were being punished for their sins. Eventually it came out that several men in the community had been knocking the women out with animal anesthetic and raping them in their sleep and they were arrested. This is the re-imagined conversation that took place between the women in deciding how to move forward from this ordeal. As they see it, they have three options: they can do nothing, stay and fight, or they can leave. It is extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking. Even though these characters are imagined, I was inspired by the women and their ability to forgive, love one another, and use humour to move on with their lives.

3. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Okay, now we’re into the top 3! It’s hard to organize the lower end of this list because I liked all those books but they’re not the top books that stand out to me and it’s difficult to rank them. But the top of list is easier because they were my favourite books that I read this year, starting with Wundersmith, the sequel to Nevermoor. The Nevermoor series is a new middle grade fantasy series that I am obsessed with. I’ve compared it multiple times to Harry Potter, not because it’s like Harry Potter, but because it reminds me of all the things I loved about Harry Potter and in how it makes me feel. Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, destined to die on the eve of her 11th birthday. But instead, she is whisked away by enigmatic Jupiter North to the land of Nevermoor, which is filled with magic and flying umbrellas and gigantic talking cats. It is such a fun series filled with so much whimsy! The world building is incredible and the plot is clever and has a lot of depth. I am in love with the characters and the world Jessica Townsend has created and I cannot wait to see where she takes this series in the future!

2. Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Our Homesick Songs took me totally by surprise. It’s historical fiction about Newfoundland’s cod fishery and the moratorium in 1992. It’s about family, community, loneliness, music, and love of place. The Connor family has always lived in the small rural, island town of Big Running and has  always survived off the cod fishery. When the fish disappear, many families are forced to make tough decisions about their future and leave their homes in search of work on the mainland. Aidan and Martha try and avoid that fate for their children, Cora and Finn, and instead decide to share a job at one of the camps in Northern Alberta. But as their community slowly disappears, Cora and Finn struggle with the changes to the life they’ve always known and the hole in their community. As a Newfoundlander, this book spoke to a part of my soul and I absolutely fell in love with Hooper’s writing style. I can see how it might not work for everyone, but her writing evoked such a feeling of homesickness that I felt I’d just moved right into the pages with Cora and Finn and Aidan and Martha. It’s a beautiful story about family and community and the links that tie us together. It’s a heartbreak story that was a reality for many Newfoundland families and I thought Hooper did a wonderful job of transporting her readers back to this time and place. I love the way she tied music into the story and I know this family will stick with me for a long time.

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

And the number one spot goes to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I read this book back in June and nothing has been able to top it since. It was an extremely emotional, but enjoyable, reading experience and even 6 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Setting is everything for me in this novel. The Great Alone is set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on the Albright family: Ernt, Cora, and their daughter Leni. Ernt is a POW from the Vietnam War and suffers from PTSD. He’s worried about the direction the government is going and in an effort to get back to the land, moves the family to the small town on Kaneq in Alaska. They move in the height of summer and Leni is totally enamoured with the landscape and their hand to mouth existence. It’s hard work to survive in Alaska and the sense of purpose and the long summer days keep Ernt’s PTSD at bay. However, when the long winter starts, Ernt’s demons start to get the better of him and Leni begins to wonder if she’s more at risk from the dangers lurking outside her door or from the dangers lurking within. It is a heartbreaking story, but Hannah creates such a sense of place and community that I just totally fell in love with. The writing is beautiful and every character is so well imagined and developed. A wonderful story about family and community, but also about the challenges women faced in the 1970’s and still face today.

Top Reads of Summer 2018

I read 29 books throughout the months of June, July, and August. It’s so hard to narrow it down to my favourites, but here’s a few of the books I loved this summer:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
I am obsessed with this book. It may end up being my top read of 2018. It’s set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on 13 year old Leni and her parents. Her dad was a POW in Vietnam and still struggles with PTSD, taking out his frustrations on Leni’s mother. The setting was the highlight of this book for me, followed closely by the writing. As someone who loves the mountains and the outdoors, I was totally sucked in my Kristin Hannah’s depictions of Alaska and the unforgiving nature of the great white north.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
This is the follow up series to Harry Potter that I’ve been waiting for. A middle grade fantasy series about young Morrigan Crow, a “cursed” child who has been rejected by her family. To avoid her fate, she signs a contract with the mysterious Jupiter North and is whisked away to Nevermoor, where she competes in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society. This is a clever and beautiful book about belonging and I can’t wait to see where Townsend takes this series.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
One of my more recent reads, Women Talking is a sobering book about the injustices women face and the struggle of when to walk away and say enough is enough. This is a fictional recounting of true events that took place in a mennonite community in Bolivia. The women in this book are undervalued, despite the great contributions they make in running their community. Even though they’ve been violated by the men in their community, it’s still hard for them to walk away. They understand the community will fall apart in their absence, but they also understand that walking away will be more effective than trying to stay and fight and that only in their absence might things change.

Not That Bad by Various Authors, edited by Roxane Gay
This is a book of essays edited by Roxane Gay about rape culture and how women have been conditioned to stay silent, believing their experiences are not that bad. It features a wonderfully diverse series of authors and re-iterates that no matter what has happened to you in the past and how worse you think someone else’s experience was, your experiences are valid and they matter.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This was an interesting novel about the American justice system and how it disproportionately targets and prosecutes black people. It had some great social commentary on what it means to be black in America, but I really liked the relationship dynamics between the 3 central characters and how it incorporated family into the story. Roy and Celestial had only been married for a year when Roy is incarcerated. Believing that Roy will be in prison for 20 years, she moves on to another relationship with her childhood friend, Andre. But when Roy is released early, Celestial must make a difficult choice about her relationships.

Sadie by Courtney Summers
This is the new YA book that everyone is talking about and it was extremely compelling. Sadie’s younger sister is murdered and in her anguish, Sadie disappears without a trace as she heads off in search of her sister’s murderer. What’s so interesting about this book is that it’s partly told in the format of a podcast about missing girls. It reminded me of Serial and features a journalist interviewing Sadie’s friends and family, trying to learn more about her disappearance and her sister’s murder. It’s a fast paced, but introspective read and I totally flew through it.

June Summary

I know, it’s halfway through July and I’m only now posting my June Summary, it’s shameful, but it’s also summer and I am having so much fun doing all the outdoor activities! For this reason, I haven’t been reading quite as much and I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a slump. I had a great start to June, but things kind of floundered a bit after that. I struggled to finish my book club selection and I really only managed to read so many books because 2 of them were audiobooks and 1 was a poetry anthology. But enough excuses, here’s my June Summary:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 2,589
Main genres: Historical Fiction
Favourite book: The Great Alone

I have to start with talking about The Great Alone because I am obsessed with this book! It’s been a month and a half since I read it and still cannot stop thinking about it! It definitely tops my list so far as best book of 2018 and I’m not sure anything will be able to top it because I loved everything about this book, even though it tore my heart to shreds. It’s set in Alaska in the 1970’s and it has made me totally obsessed with everything to do with Alaska and I am now dying to go there. I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the book, I wrote a lengthy review of it if you want to check it out, but honestly, just get yourself a box of tissues and go read it immediately!

My love of The Great Alone inspired me to pick up two other books about Alaska in June. I finally read my copy of The Smell of Other People’s Houses, which believe it or not is set in the exact same time period, but in Fairbanks Alaska. This is a short YA book with the most gorgeous cover and the most disappointing story. I did not like this one, the plot was too shallow and lacked any really emotion. Secondly, I read Robert W. Service’s most popular poetry anthology from the early 1900’s, Songs of a Sourdough, which is mostly about the Yukon and Alaska. It’s referenced several times in The Great Alone and I was already familiar with some of his poetry (the cremation of Sam McGee), but I’m thrilled I picked this one up because it has some great poems in it and I love the rhythm of his poetry and sense of place.

I read one mystery novel in June, The Dry by Jane Harper. I quite liked it as it had a good balance of mystery, investigation, and flashback to a previous mystery, which I always love in a good PI novel. This book now has a sequel called Force of Nature, which I am dying to get to because it sounds like it might have a bit of man vs. nature conflict going on, which is always interesting.

I listened to 2 audiobooks. I ran out of credits on Audible and my library’s collection of audiobooks is truly shameful, so I found a free version of Jane Austen’s Emma that I decided to listen to. It took me like 2 months to get through this one though, and while I thought the narrator did a great job, it was just so flipping boring that I couldn’t love it. I also listened to Girls Burn Brighter, which I did like, but which was just so depressing that I found it hard to listen to. It’s a sobering book about human trafficking, but it was also much heavier than I was ready for. I gave both audiobooks 3 stars, because I do appreciate what both authors were trying to do with these books, but I didn’t love either.

Finally, I read two other historical fiction novels for my monthly challenge (The Great Alone was the first one): I was Anastasia and Fruit of the Drunken Tree. I did like both of these books, but sadly neither blew me out of the water and they were both pretty standard 3 star books. I did learn some neat history from both of them though, so I commend them for that.

And that’s it for June, I will try and be more speedy in July I promise!

The Great Alone

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Feb. 2018 (read Jun. 2018)

The Great Alone has been haunting my shelf since it first came out and I finally found time to read it as part of my June Challenge to read 3 historical novels. I read The Nightingale in 2015 and while I did like it a lot, I’ve read a lot of WWII historical fiction and had a bit of fatigue reading that genre. The Great Alone has the most gorgeous cover though (don’t pretend it doesn’t matter) and I was intrigued by a story about Alaska and a POW.

I’m so glad I finally read this because it was seriously a pleasure to read from start to finish, even though it broke my heart and tossed me into the pits of despair. The Great Alone has some of the most gorgeous writing and Kristin Hannah breathed so much life into her setting and her characters. Setting is key for this story and the author did a magnificent job a creating a sense of place. Sometimes too much descriptive imagery can bog a story down, but Hannah’s writing made me fall totally in love with a place I’ve never even been.

Alaska in the 1970’s is the last frontier of America. A place where no one really cares who you are or where you came from. A place where everyone is running to something or from something. A place where 5 of every 1,000 people goes missing and is never found. Where you’re only allowed to make one mistake, because the second one will kill you.

Ernt Albright returns from the Vietnam War a broken man. His plane crashed and he was captured early into his tour and spent years being tortured in a POW camp. When he finally returns to his family, he is broken and disillusioned with America. He was in love with his country when he signed up to go to Vietnam, but now all he can see is an America that no longer represents him – corrupt politicians and blind citizens. Between the Watergate scandal and the young girls going missing in Washington, Ernt Albright feels the whole world is just going to shit.

In his frustration, Ernt becomes an angry and volatile man, moving his family all over America before inheriting a cabin in Alaska from his late friend from Vietnam. In a last bid to find peace, he packs up his life and moves his wife, Cora, and their 13 year old daughter, Leni, to Kaneq Town in Alaska.

They arrive in Alaska in the Spring and are enchanted by the landscape. The days are long and Ernt finally has a purpose – repairing the decrepit old cottage and learning how to survive. Leni has never really had a place that she could call home, but something about Alaska calls to her. This is the great alone, where you can be whoever you want to be. There’s a real sense of community – trade is a currency and in a place where survival is all that matters, the neighbours band together to look after each other.

I’ve been living in BC for the last 5 years, and while I know it’s a lot a different than Alaska, I have become totally enamoured with the landscape here, the mountains and lakes. I spend most of my free time in the summer hiking and camping in the mountains. I also grew up in Newfoundland, which again, has little in common with Alaska, but is more remote and you spend a lot of your year suffering through a dark winter. I know the Alaskans wouldn’t be impressed with my measly camping skills when living off the land is their life, but I did feel like I could totally relate with their love of place, even though 8 months of the year that place is trying to kill you.

The author does a fantastic job with the imagery and making you fall in love with Alaska when the Allbright’s first arrive. The days are long and the flowers are in bloom, what’s not to love about Alaska. For the first time in her life, Leni sees a place where they might actually be able to be a happy family. The sun drives away Ernt’s nightmares and being responsible for your own subsistence gives them all a purpose. Plus, Leni makes her first real friend. There’s only 6 students in the tiny school in Kaneq, but Matthew Walker is 13 too and for the first time, they both have a real friend to spend time with. Matthew is the third generation of the Walker family to grow up in Alaska and he shares his love of the land with Leni and they become very close.

However, at the same time that Hannah’s writing has you falling in love with Alaska, there’s this feeling of darker things lurking on the horizon. The townspeople seem to be obsessed with winter. After school lets out, the entire summer is devoted to preparing for a long a dark winter and Leni and her family work from dawn til dusk every day doing their best to prepare. They must til the land, grow a garden, smoke and can salmon, and most important, bag a moose to see them through the long winter. And as the days start to get shorter, the long nights bring the return of Ernt’s nightmares. His temper gets shorter and Leni begins to realize that what can kill her outside the house may be second to what lurks inside their own home.

I think I could talk forever about this book. I thought it was a little slow moving at the beginning, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment. I learned a lot about Alaska and survival, which I found just as enthralling as the character development and conflict that came later. There’s a lot going on in this book and Kristin Hannah created some truly wonderful characters. It’s hard to read about Ernt and Cora and their volatile love, as well as the heartbreak that befalls the Walker family early in the novel. But I loved watching the relationships grow. The relationships between Leni and her mother and Leni and Matthew are beautiful, as well as the relationships that develop between Leni and her mother with secondary characters like Large Marge and Tom Walker (I love both of these characters!)

This is a coming of age story for Leni and it is wrought with secrets and heartbreak. Leni loves both her parents, but she also knows they are bad for one another and she struggles to understand their love or to follow her mother’s policy of silence. Tom Walker has money and wants to invest it in the community, to promote tourism in their little piece of the world. But Ernt is opposed to change in any form and the two men find themselves at odds with one another and Ernt’s opinions threaten to tear the community apart. Leni’s friendship with Matthew and her fear of her father cause her to get caught in the middle. What matters more, her family or her future.

Like I said, this book tore my heart right out of my chest and stomped all other it. It is deeply sad, but it also makes you feel so much. It’s about the strength of women and the power of community. How some loves are good and important, but others are toxic and dangerous. There doesn’t have to be shame in our deepest, darkest secrets and that sometimes sharing them with someone else can be incredibly powerful. We don’t always have to carry our burdens alone.

This book also shines a light on some of the inequities of the past and how they still exist today. The law is not very accommodating of battered women. This hasn’t really changed. Leaving bad relationships can be the hardest thing and can sometimes even be more dangerous than staying in a bad relationship. Without help for women, sometimes there is no escape. This book will break your heart, but it will also give you that righteous anger about the way women are treated and tricked within the legal system. How in the 70’s women couldn’t even get their own credit card without a male signatory, so how are they supposed to make it on their own? But the Great Alone has some powerful characters and I loved watching Leni grow and find herself. She was forced into some tough decisions, but Alaska taught her to survive against things tougher than just nature.

I can see how this book might not be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it and now I’m dying to go visit Alaska. Recommend to everyone!

June Monthly Challenge

I was too busy in May to do a monthly challenge and I actually really missed it. I love the flexibility of just being able to pick any book you want off the shelf, which I rarely do anymore between my challenges, book club, and netgalley reads, but I felt like my reading was a bit aimless without any reading goals to work towards in May.

I’m super excited about my June reading challenge though and I think I’ve picked out 3 great books for it. Historical fiction was my favourite genre for many years, but I’ve been a little fatigued with it over the last few years because I feel the genre is over-saturated with WW1 and 2 novels and books about slavery. So I got a lot more into fantasy and discovered all these YA fantasy series that have huge online followings, but I am starting to get a bit fatigued with this genre now because while there’s so much out there, once you start reading a lot of it, it tends to get a bit repetitive.

In an effort to branch out a little more again and return to a genre I love, I’ve decided that in June my monthly challenge will be to:

Read 3 Historical Novels

It was really hard to narrow it down to just 3 books, because I do have a huge list of historical novels that I’ve been wanting to get to, so I tried to focus on reading about stories set in different countries and different time periods. The three books I picked are:

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
2. I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhorn
3. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

 

I read Kristin Hannah’s other bestseller, The Nightingale, in 2015 with my book club and we all really liked it. My book club liked it a little more than me because this was when I was really getting fatigued with the WW1 and WW2 books, but I did still like it. The Great Alone is her new book and has been getting fantastic reviews – I bought a copy on sale in February and I’ve been trying to get to it ever since. I don’t like to know too much about my books when I start reading them, but this is set in Alaska in 1974 and examines the aftereffects of a former Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War when he returns to Alaska.

I Was Anastasia is a fairly new release, but I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this one since I first saw a synopsis of it months ago. This is actually my book club selection for June, so I’m happy to be able to combine two of my reading lists this month. This is a WW1 book, but bear with me because this sounds different than any other WW1 book I’ve ever read! It’s about the grand duchess Anastasia and her supposed execution with the rest of the Romanov’s during the Russian Revolution. There’s always been speculation that Anastasia may have survived and in this novel, a young girl shows up in Germany 3 years later claiming to be Anastasia. Was anyone else obsessed with 20th Century Fox’ version of Anastasia growing up? Because I was and I am super excited for some bestselling, historical fiction about her! I’m on a journey to the past with this one folks.

My last pick of the month is a brand new, not-yet-released book that I only heard about recently. I’m not even sure where I first heard about Fruit of the Drunken Tree, I think Goodreads may have featured it in one of the lists of their blog, but it sounds so good. It’s a debut novel by Ingrid Rojas Contreras that was inspired by her own life growing up in the 1990’s in Colombia. It’s a coming-of-age story during a period of great upheaval and violence in Colombia and features a piece of history that I am not knowledgeable about and haven’t seen featured in historical fiction before. A big thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, who happily provided me with an advance copy of this book so that I could include it in my monthly challenge.